Friday, October 05, 2007

Biden Calls For 16-Year Public Education System

Sen. Joe Biden wants to transform American public education into a 16-year system, getting kids as young as 3 into 'head start" programs.

The Delaware Democrat and presidential candidate announced his education plan Thursday in Des Moines, then set out for two days of campaign stops in southeast Iowa.


Biden's proposal, which comes with a price tag of approximately $30 billion, would fund two full years of preschool for everyone and provide qualifying high school graduates funding to go to college for two years.

At a campaign event in Ottumwa Thursday evening, Biden chatted for 90 minutes with a crowd of about 40 people at the local United Auto Workers hall. He spent a good deal of that time talking about his education plan.

"We've got to start kids to school earlier," said Biden. "If we start kids in a quality preschool at age 3, they have a 25 percent better chance of graduating high school than if we start them at age 6. Teachers have known this for years. So I would invest in early education. I'd double enrollment in Early Headstart and quadruple Headstart."

The plan would also provide $5 billion in grants to states to expand public preschool programs, and would expand home visitation programs for new parents to provide guidance on health, nutrition and school readiness.

One of the key components of Biden's plan is what he calls Higher Education ACCESS for All. He said it would help pay $9,300 per year for two years of college for students from families making less than $50,000 per year. For more affluent families, it would provide refundable tax credits.

"Anybody coming of high school who qualifies for college should be able to go," he said, "and not be denied because they don't have the money. There were 400,000 kids [who] got admitted to college this year but couldn't afford to go. And we're competing around the world? Anybody think you're gonna make it in the year 2025 without a college education?" he asked. "Coming from a middle-class neighborhood? What do you think your prospects are? My generation, you could make it. But let me tell you somethin', baby, I wouldn't want to bet on it now."

The college portion of Biden's education plan alone would cost about $9 billion annually. But, Biden said, it's all about what you value. "We're spending $85 billion per year to give people making an average income of $1,430,000 a year a tax break. Now you tell me what you value. Did they need that? They didn't ask for it and it will not affect the economy at all if they don't have it. I'm not trying to punish them: I'm not one of these class guys, rich against poor. They just don't need it. For almost one-tenth of that amount, he said, his plan could guarantee that everyone in America who qualifies could afford to go to college.But for almost one tenth of that, I could guarantee every kid in America that qualifies could get to college."

Biden also would hire 100,000 new teachers in an effort to reduce class sizes to an average of 18 students per classroom. "The smaller the class, the better the outcome. You have 30 kids in a class, you could do better with 20. The only way to get smaller classes is to get more teachers." Biden calls for a grant program to provide $2 billion annually to assist school districts in providing incentives to attract new teachers.

Biden would also raise teacher pay with a series of incentives. "In the countries we're competing with, England, France, the Netherlands...they pay their teachers the same amount of money they pay a graduating engineer. My dad used to have an expression. He said, 'don't tell me what you value, show me your budget and I'll tell you what you value.'" Biden applies that lesson in his belief that if America values education, we must budget for it.


He said he would provide additional incentives to teachers who work in what he calls "high-need" schools and provide bonuses to teachers who agree to stay with those schools for five years. The plan also calls for supplementing the pay of teachers who achieve National Board Certification, as well as assisting teachers to pay off their student loans.

"The thing about this is it's doable. It's doable," said Biden. "The thing costs a lot of money, but it's doable." Biden's proposal can be viewed on his campaign website here.

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